Typically it’s not cool to publish the same article in multiple media locations but thanks to some awesome supporters that believe in the Amp’d Rider Project, I got a pass on this rule. Let me begin by saying THANK YOU to some great folks and their publications:
LIMBits are all in your Head…
For folks like me, that have stared the reaper in the face, we are often more aware and more thankful for little things, like the calendar turning a date. Some of us think, “WOW, I almost wasn’t here today.” And some of us go a step further and think, “OH YEAH, what can I do next?”
We all know that the passion for riding a motorcycle brings with it certain inherent dangers. As motorcyclists many of us take riding classes, practice our emergency maneuvers, keep our eyes peeled and constantly scanning, but sometimes – sometimes – it’s not enough. Sometimes circumstances, happen-chance, and other people’s choices leave us scarred for life, in the worst of cases, take a life. I have always been aware of the dangers both small and large that accompany driving a motorcycle, but it was not until somebody changed my life that I fully began to understand so very many new things.
For those that are not aware, here is my short story. After losing a corporate job in 2012 and having little luck of finding another with reasonable salary, I made the insane and overwhelming awesome decision to be homeless. Well, at least that’s how I used to tell it. I sold nearly everything I owned, I ramped up my Virtual Assistant business, The Write Hand; I loaded my dog, laptop, and peripherals onto my 1995 Harley Davidson Sportster 883. I left Illinois in February 2013 to tour the United States and grow my business. The months I spent traveling on my motorcycle, sleeping in the woods or abandon buildings, and meeting folks from all walks of life along my path, were some of the most freeing days in my entire life. Never for a single second do I regret what I did, not even as I laid in that ditch.
In July 2013 on a very hot 97 degree day with beautiful blue skies above, I drove across the Wisconsin state line into Minnesota. It was about 2pm and I had chosen my route based on the St. Croix River; I knew that come evening it would provide me options for making camp that night and I always love camping near water. I had only been in Minnesota for a few miles. I stopped at the Welcome Sign to take a picture but realized my phone memory was full, so off I went. Well, I didn’t get far. My route was a beautiful two lane road through farm lands along the river. There were green fields, cows, silos, and winding curves – winding curves…
As I headed into a deep left curve a semi-truck approached in his lane. As always, I gently moved right a little, always giving a bit more room for a semi in case they fudge slightly. And there it was, barreling at me at a speed I learned was well over the limit – a young man in a car was trying to pass the semi-truck and was headed straight at me in MY LANE – MY FREAKIN LANE!! I was traveling about 55 mph and the other vehicle between 70 and 80. Every time I take my memory back to that place, one thing permeates my brain – the young man and I screamed simultaneously, “No, No, No!” He did a great deal to help and aid as I lay in that ditch and for the next half hour the end of my life was more than apparent to me and to the support personnel buzzing all around the scene. With my insides on the outside, we all knew that I was going to die and that was that. I thanked God for all that he had given me, thanked Him for letting me accomplish my dream, and asked Him to take care of my son and granddaughter. With a great deal of vigor in that half hour or so, I was eventually loaded into a helicopter bound for Regions Hospital in St. Paul. A lifetime ago, the last thing I saw was a helicopter door open and blue skies and sunshine spilling onto my face, and then I died.
Yippee for amazing surgeons and modern technology because I was not intended to stay dead. I could go on about the number of hours and surgeries, the blood content of my body being replaced three times over, all the drugs, the pain, the nightmares, the rage, the pity, and the ‘Why Me’ questions, but that would serve no purpose other than to say, it’s a natural process of grieving a loss!
Motorcycle riders are particularly at risk for losing legs in a crash involving another vehicle. If you think about it logically, our entire body is exposed and if another vehicle comes in contact with us it is most likely going to strike somewhere in the leg area. A vehicular crash is only one simple way to become an amputee. There are medical issues like cancer and diabetes that take limbs quite often. Work related accidents and even birth defects leave folks missing part or all of a limb or limbs.
Being a motorcyclist is not very unique these days; it seems there are motorcycles everywhere now. And being an amputee isn’t rare either. But how many amputee motorcyclists have you seen? Perhaps more than you even realize. Whether born amp’d or made amp’d, as long as your heart still beats, there is a chance at living a dream, loving a passion, and doing more than you ever thought possible.
I can tell you one cliché that has and always will ‘set me off’; it’s when somebody says, “You can do everything you used to do and more.” Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? That can be questionable. Average folks see Olympic athletes and TV show stars with amputations doing amazing things and they assume that ALL amputees can do these things. That is NOT so. Riddle you this Batman… Prosthetics cost a lot of money and the more ‘tricked out’ they are, the more they cost. Even with health insurance it can be exorbitant to pay our out of pocket portion for such a piece of durable medical equipment. This doesn’t even take into consideration other health issues that may need attention. And do not be a fool to think that if somebody else causes an injury that their insurance will suddenly make all the problems go away. In most cases, folks don’t have enough coverage on their auto policy to come close to paying for lost wages for months or years, hundreds of thousands in medical bills, and costs associated with future care. This is putting it lightly because there are only so many pages in this magazine.
There is no place for backward thinking when there is so much more that is bigger and better waiting for us ahead. Just 18 months ago this horrific experience changed my life FOREVER. In the time that has passed since, I have learned a great deal about being an amputee, about my own inner strength, and about the plight that others have faced before me. I have talked to others with physical impairments and have helped them choose amputation over unending surgeries and pain. I have shared with whoever will listen and I have listened to whoever will share. I have found a greater respect for myself and for so many others that I didn’t really “see” before. Most of us realize that until a certain thing affects you personally, you cannot fully comprehend the entire breadth of a situation.
And so I welcome 2015 in its enormity and potential, with the support of my family, my friends, and my social media followers that all helped me rise up and not start over, but rather START NEW! This article is a brief look at my personal tragedy and loss of limb which I share openly. The PTSD, nightmares, and struggles continue but get weaker as I grow stronger. My physical abilities improve a bit more with most days and I am functioning in a somewhat regular lifestyle. There remain a great many challenges and things that have been altered terrifically which I am still attempting to understand and overcome.
So many folks don’t understand the daily functionality of an amputee, they may not understand how mentally taxing such an experience can be, and they likely do not understand why on earth somebody like me would ever think of getting back on a motorcycle.
This article serves as a lead-in story for a project I have taken on to raise awareness of what amputee life is like, the trials, and the triumphs ~ most particularly, I am focusing on Amp’d Motorcyclists. I will be interviewing verbally many amputees that have lost limbs and gone on to continue their passion for motorcycle riding. We will hear all about their personal amputation, the modifications to bikes, the things that challenged them when they began riding again, and much more. The project will be followed with an article of summary from these great stories.
If you are or know an amputee motorcyclist, please reach me to participate in this project. Likewise, if you are or know bike pros that modify machines for the disabled or pros in the medical industry that help amputees, please reach me to participate in this project.
It is my hope that readers were able to check out the lead-in article to the Amp’d Rider Project from the last issue. This project has given me more insight and education than I could have imagined when I first started. What was a heartfelt cause to share and enlighten others has become an extraordinary endeavor. I have interviewed over ten amputees that resumed their passion for riding motorcycles after losing their limbs, and many more interviews in the pipeline. In addition, several professionals have joined the mission of the Amp’d Rider Project. The YouTube series has received a great many subscribers and social media followers are intrigued with the information they are receiving. The stories of amputation range from illnesses to accidents and the amputees are very diverse in professions.
Kendall Hill was on a Boy Scout excursion, watching his son repels for the first time. Like most parents, he wanted that perfect picture. He took just one too many steps and the ledge gave way sending Kendall down a deep cliff. Being that the troop was in a somewhat remote location, it took over two hours for Kendall to get flown off to a hospital. A combination of injuries and time created the need to amputate part of his leg. He climbed out of that tragedy to not only be here for his children but to ride again. (YouTube: Amp’d Rider Project – Episode 002 – with Kendall Hill)
Roger Chan has served in many professional and political roles during his life. He was a man that had earned a good living and had life in order so to speak, with a retirement and college fund for his kids. On his birthday, which was also Thanksgiving, he was attending a local giving project to help feed less fortunate folks. A motorist hit Roger and as he slid, trapped under his Indian, he felt his leg being ground off. He says, “…like putting your leg in a pencil sharpener.” Rather quickly, Roger and his family discovered just how costly such a tragedy can be. Blowing through nearly all the funds he had worked so hard to preserve for his family, Roger found himself starting over in more ways than just walking. He now owns Rolling Thunder Roadhouse in Texas and naturally, he rides again. (YouTube: Amp’d Rider Project – Episode 003 – with Roger Chan)
Erik Peterson of C. H. Martin Company is my current leg man in Georgia. I find Erik to be a very attentive prosthetist that truly listens to the patient and goes well beyond common professional courtesy to ensure that I have all I need for the best quality of life. Interesting to me is that southern boy Erik graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago; where I lived for 21 years. Erik was born premature and his femur was not fully developed at birth. His knee is only a few inches from his hip and his foot is smaller than it should be naturally. Though he is not an amputee, this birth defect means that Erik has been wearing prosthetics his whole life. As such, Erik can personally relate to the difficulties and trials that go with limb challenges. I have heard time and again from amputees that their prosthetist doesn’t understand them and often times they feel as if they are in ill-fitted prosthetics. Erik does not let a patient leave in pain or with a prosthetic that is less than a phenomenal fit. (YouTube: Amp’d Rider Project – Episode 004 – with Erik Peterson)
Dave and Becka were on a date in their fairly new relationship and enjoying a beautiful day of riding. In a flash, as many of us have heard before, a deer jumped into their path of travel. The destruction was devastating. Dave suffered many injuries including a partial leg amputation. Becka suffered pretty severe traumatic brain injury. For many months these two went through surgeries and recovery, all the while remaining together as a couple. They will both say that together is the only way they could have made it through the ordeal. Each of them helped the other with their weaknesses and built up each other’s strengths. They agree that going through that tragedy and recovery together grew their bond. And now, Mr. and Mrs. Bledsoe ride again and help extensively with the Patriot Guard in their area. (YouTube: Amp’d Rider Project – Episode 005 – with Dave & Becka Bledsoe)
Vicki Bishop straddled her motorcycle and headed to work one morning like a thousand mornings before. She is a well-seasoned rider and really doesn’t remember exactly what went wrong. She only remembers watching her motorcycle cross the center line directly in front of a semi-truck. Though she was able to talk to first responders her memory of the incident is vague and she had no idea that her leg was severed at the scene. Vicki had just been dating a fellow for a few weeks when her crash occurred but with family sensitivity to her circumstances, the fellow became estranged. It wasn’t until Vicki got back to living on her own that she was able to reunite with her friend. It was he that helped Vicki back into her passion for riding. He took Vicki to a rally, put her on the back of his bike, and helped her regain her confidence. As she grew in confidence, she grew in determination. Her fellow and another friend helped Vicki modify a trike so that she could get her knee back in the breeze. Yep, just one knee – she is an above knee amputee and thus a two wheeled bike was not conducive to her situation. She says she still rides everywhere she possibly can. (YouTube: Amp’d Rider Project – Episode 006 – with Vicki Bishop)
Steve Chamberland, former pro-wrestler and leg amputee is a man for whom I am ever so thankful to have in my life. On a Memorial Day motorcycle ride, Steve lost part of his leg when a motorist hit him and his passenger. Steve is a far-out kind of guy and even with no prosthetic he took a buddy’s bike for a spin just a few weeks following the loss of his leg. As the years passed Steve wrestled professionally and started a construction company. But it wasn’t until a personal appearance with some of wrestling’s biggest names that he truly found his calling. Hearing of a young girl that lost her leg, Steve gathered his buddies together to try and raise money for the girl. As Jimmy Hart “Mouth of the South” tells it, “… you lit up when you gave that little girl her leg.” From that gesture of caring and the work it took to raise those funds, Steve formed 50Legs.org. The charity, 50Legs.org is based purely on donations and has very little overhead. While I still lay in the hospital in Minnesota a friend of mine from Illinois connected with Steve and explained my crash and lack of medical coverage. Steve reached out to me and offered help from 50Legs.org so that I could get a prosthetic when the time came. I nearly choke on tears every time I think about what my life would be today if I had not received helped from 50Legs.org. I would not have walked so soon, I would not have been able to travel in my truck and trailer through the country just 8 months after losing my leg, and I certainly would not have been able to ride a motorcycle again so soon. I could have done it all “eventually” but thanks to Steve, his supporters, and 50Legs.org; I was able to get back to my passion which made me feel whole again. (YouTube: Amp’d Rider Project – Episode 007 – with Steve Chamberland)
Ryan Hutchinson was a truck driver and making his scheduled route when something went terribly wrong with the truck. Ryan’s arm was pinned and despite rescue and surgical efforts he became a left arm amputee. He is a man of many talents and amazing determination. Ryan began almost immediately to modify his motorcycle because he wasn’t going to give up his passion. He regained his strength and fortitude to continue playing hockey, golf, and of course riding and working on motorcycles. I have heard many amputees say that their family and friends were distraught or even outright forbidding when they spoke of riding again. Ryan has no hesitation in saying that his family and friends were a huge driving force in helping him recover and get on with living life to the fullest. His friends helped him with bike modifications and his family supported him in all his endeavors. Ryan now has a motorcycle related product in production that I cannot disclose but I will say that it is innovative and I for one anxiously await its release. (YouTube: Amp’d Rider Project – Episode 008 – with Ryan Hutchinson)
Scott Shephard enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 18. The day before he was to report to basic training he and some buddies had one last gathering. In the minds of young men, consequence does not always take precedence. After several alcohol beverages Scott climbed on the back seat of a motorcycle while his buddy prepared to drive them for a ‘short ride’. That ride was indeed short and with a guard-rail winning the battle, Scott’s left arm is now short as well. Scott is a man that today will say honestly he went through hell time and again through the years trying to cope with his circumstances. The self-destruction that took his arm continued until he was 27. It was then that he found faith and began a college education. Though he rode a motorcycle throughout that time, it wasn’t until he had healed himself on the inside did he truly regain his passion for the ride. Scott is an accomplished golfer and an intriguing philosopher with whom I personally enjoy speaking and debating. The only problem I can find wrong with Scott is that he hasn’t taken that new motorcycle out of the state of Florida. I say that in jest because I already know that he is planning a great many new adventures somewhat similar to what I did with my truck, trailer, and bike. I certainly look forward to following his journey. (YouTube: Amp’d Rider Project – Episode 009 – with Scott Shephard)
Donnie Huffman of Huffman Performance and Restoration in Florida shared with me his lifelong involvement with motorcycles. His Dad had always been a rider and Donnie and his sister followed in that path. He says that his poor Mom went through the ringer with all of them, from long hours in the garage to crashes and broken bones. In a strange twist of fate, Donnie’s Dad suffered tremendously in one particular crash and through the settlement of that case was able to buy his first Harley Davidson dealership. Though his Mom is gone now, his Dad still rides and own the dealership. Donnie has gone on to start his own shop and is a Harley drag racer. Scott Shephard (above) has known Donnie many years and it is Donnie that has done modifications on several of Scott’s bike to accommodate his missing arm. All in good fun, Donnie says of Scott, “…he’s a pain in the ass but I like being able to help him ride.” Donnie is one of those guys that was born to be an engineer / mechanic. He simply looks at a problem and sees a solution manifest. With the different bikes that Scott has had over the years, each presents a different scenario for making the controls all fit the right side. As I learned from Scott’s story and talking to Donnie, there is no hurdle you cannot overcome if you just put your mind and heart to it.
The interviews I have conducted thus far have been nothing short of spectacular. From the amputees that never gave up on themselves, I have learned a great deal and shared a lot of laughs. From the professionals that modify motorcycles and make their living in the medical world, I have learned what dedication it takes to serve others. And from the online followers, I have seen that folks really do care, they just don’t always understand a particular situation because it has not affected them directly. I have received a plethora of messages ranging from, “… thank you for doing this…” to “…you and your project has given me the courage to try riding again…”
It is my hope that this project will affect all types of people. Whether you are an amputee or a whole body person, this message will educate and inform. If you know or care for an amputee or other type of disabled person, you will understand better how to help. For those that are professionals, you will hear varied stories about how much we appreciate what you do.
The introductory episode of the Amp’d Rider Project was publicized on January 26, 2015. The interviews continue and are publicized weekly on Monday. Should you desire to subscribe to The B.R.O.A.D. ™ YouTube channel you can find the full length interviews in the playlist entitled: Amp’d Rider Project. I cannot say how long this project will continue but as long as there is interest, I will do my best to keep putting my best foot forward for all of you.
Wishing you all,
Peace, Hugs, and Pipes that Rumble ™
Ursula aka The B.R.O.A.D. ™
As always, I owe a huge thank you to my sponsors that have stuck with me through the entire journey. I don’t make them a million bucks but the friendships have been PRICELESS!!
Parents often say, “Everything I do is for you.” I’m not so sure that’s the right way to say it because even parents have to do things for themselves. I prefer to say, “Everything I do is with you in mind.” Even if I do something purely for myself, I want it to be something that my son Nathan will be proud of. I can only hope that when I fade away he and his daughter can share stories of my failures and learn from them, and share stories of my triumphs and grow from them. This young man is truly the one-and-only true-love of my life. Being his mother has constantly given me reason to be a better person. We grew up together and we grow older together; thick or thin – everything I do is with this man and his daughter in mind. Though he is no longer with his daughter’s Mom, she too has a special place in my heart. Again, through thick or thin, Tina and I seem to come back together through the years. She is doing a great job with my grandbaby and I am proud of her. Mommy and Granny love you Nathan Lee, Kylee Rae, and Tina P. Thank you all for making this life worth living!!